The picture on the mantle had the glitter of new dust. The focus was on a young woman, but the frame was being picked up by older hands. “This was me,” Robin said, “when I was young.” She put the photo back with the gentle grace one uses with a beloved object, nestling it in its spot. It was clear Robin felt a disconnect between who she is, and who she was. But perhaps that’s the most important thing to remember about aging: you are always still you. The years don’t change that, and even as abilities change, your expectations about life shouldn’t. You are still the person in the picture with hopes and dreams and the wild will to explore.
For too long, society has seen aging as an end to life, a halfway house where we drop off our suitcases to sit and wait. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to understand that older adults are still their vital and full-spirited selves. When you are older, you are still the one and indivisible you. Aging isn’t the end, nor is it a beginning: it is part of the rolling wild continuum of life, and should be celebrated as much as any other step in our journey.
Exploring Throughout Life’s Long Journey
We’re all given a certain narrative about life: the child learns who he or she is; the adolescent what they can do; the teen their supposed lack of limitations; the adult, life’s limits. We gain new interests, and discover ourselves along the way. And then, as we age, that exploration is expected to end.
But at IOA, we believe that exploration is a constant throughout life. We know that you may experience some good days and some bad days, but life doesn’t end before it is over. Life is a continual process of discovery. And while you might not decide to take up underwater archeology, a beginner’s snorkeling class could help you rediscover yourself in a new way. As a society, we’ve encouraged people to view aging through gray-tinted glasses, but there are ways to avoid that pitfall.
- Joining social groups. There are social day programs throughout the Bay Area that allow older adults to socialize with new friends, and enjoy opportunities to explore pursuits they never thought possible. Many of these experiences are of the artistic variety, and give people the chance to delve back into gifts long-dormant, or maybe not yet discovered.
- Retirement jobs. There are sometimes economic reasons why a retiree would have to get a job, but working when you are older is too often overlooked as a potential source of joy—a retirement job can be a way to meet new people, try out new skills, and continue to enjoy life. It can be a rewarding challenge, and a way to stay active. You might not be adding to your resume, but you are adding to your life experience, and isn’t that the whole point?
- Having fun. That childlike sense of fun shouldn’t end with aging. Some of life’s simple pleasures—the wild laughter, the inside jokes with friends, the ability to break out of the humdrum—are still as vital to living when we are in our 80s as when we were in our 20s. Never be afraid to have fun. IOA recently held a “Senior Prom” for LGBTQ adults and allies, in which costumes and laughter were a huge part of the celebration—that zeal for life should never go away.
- Lifelong learning. A recently-retired couple from our area looked into the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkeley, and were blown away. This is a national program which offers interesting courses, lectures and discussion groups for older adults. Suddenly, this couple, that used to go out every few weeks or so, were constantly busy. On Mondays they had a physics course, and then Wednesday was a series on Faulkner, and on Friday they were leading a poetry discussion group. Not only that, but they were planning dinner and lunch dates with their new friends in between. OLLI gave them a chance to learn about everything they had always been interested in, with classes taught by professors and leaders in the field. And, it’s at the heart of aging well: the ability to constantly learn.
Still You; Still Human
You are never calcified. You are always a work in progress, no matter your age. There is nothing embarrassing about realizing that there is more to learn about yourself as you get older—the exploration of self is fundamentally human. It is the essence of who we are. Denying that, simply because of age, can rob us of experiencing all life has to offer. The adult gently holding the picture is still the child peering out of it—and those eyes never have to stop looking around. The spirit that drives the child is the same one that moves the older adult. You are always still human. You are always still you.
Let’s go exploring.
At Institute on Aging, we provide a wide range of compassion-based resources and services to help older adults, their families, and their caregivers live their biggest life possible. Contact us today to discover more.